On August 3, following the Guangdong Provincial Government’s decision to initiate a point system to determine hukou eligibility, Shenzhen announced that an addition 4,600 household residences would be available for rural migrant workers. Shenzhen has been loosening its requirements for educated and skilled workers from other cities, but allowing rural workers to transfer hukou directly to Shenzhen (rather than first to another city and then to Shenzhen) is new.
I’m interested to see how these 4,600 migrant workers are chosen and a complete list of the point system. Older criteria included gender, age, level of education, hometown, and local sponsorship. The first major change was, of course, allowing individuals to apply themselves, rather than through a work unit. Also, I’ll be interested to see how marital status plays out in the allocation of these hukou. After all, if these hukou are given to married individuals then the actual number of new Shenzhen residents could be over 14,000 people.
And yet. All this counting of people seems oddly ineffective. In Shenzhen, the population continues to burgeon beyond all attempts at urban planning. I don’t think that giving hukou to (even) 14,000 people will change the reality that Shenzhen does not have enough hospitals, schools, and affordable housing because hukou figures woefully under represent the city’s population. Indeed, to the extent that social welfare benefits are based on hukou statistics, Shenzhen’s hukou system will continue to be a negotiation of radical inequality, rather than a way of distributing social justice.
That said, hukou debates painfully remind me of immigration debates in the United States, where the point too often seems to be cutting up extant pies, rather than attempting new recipes. We all too often forget that simply because we don’t share the same citizenship status it doesn’t mean we live on different planets and therefore don’t need to be accountable to each other. Folks with or without Shenzhen hukou, like those with or without US green cards / citizenship, all breath the same air, drink the same water, and eat the fruits of one earth. The effects of decisions to pollute a stream or educate a child cross all sorts of boundaries. Sustainable justice begins when we acknowledge that our governments need to negotiate forms of connection (across all sorts of difference) rather than merely manage forms of exclusionary privilege.
[For those with a historical bent, it’s worth noting changing boundaries between inside and outside what counts as “Shenzhen”. In September 1995, one of Shenzhen’s reforms was establishing conditions for temporary residence in the “Special Zone”. The “Special Zone” had only three districts (Luohu, Futian, and Nanshan) and did not include New Baoan County, which was still technically rural. At the time, the boundary between the Special Zone and the rest of China was a second border (二线) that was an internal border. The importance of the second border dissolved in 2003ish around the same time (2004) that the last of Baoan and Longgang Districts had been administratively urbanized and integrated into the Shenzhen Municipal Government.]